The woman sitting next to me wore a lovely pink dress and had well-sculpted blond hair. She was quiet and unassuming, patiently waiting her turn to share in the group discussion.
When she finally spoke, her voice was modulated. “Hello. I’m the Queen of Belgium.”
It took a mighty effort for me not to look surprised. I had heard Belgium’s queen would be at the World Economic Forum (WEF), held annually in Davos, Switzerland, but I hadn’t expected her to mingle with the masses.
Of course, referring to WEF participants as “masses” isn’t exactly accurate. Attendees of the gathering come from the highest echelons of society: national leaders and dignitaries, CEOs of multination corporations and nonprofits, billionaires, and internationally recognized artists.
My husband and I were part of a small group of social entrepreneurs given free access to the event. I had been prepared for other attendees to ignore me when they found out I was “just a spouse”—and the spouse of a social entrepreneur, at that. I expected their eyes to glaze over when I talked about my writing career or my husband’s mission to bring solar power to developing countries.
Even the wealthy and powerful need to feel accepted and seen as their true selves—as who they are apart from what they do or what social strata they occupy.
In the many conferences I have attended, the dynamic I experience the most and dislike the most is the assessment of each other’s worth within seconds of meeting. Consciously or not, we ask ourselves some version of the following: Is this person worthy of my time? What can I get from him or her? Should I be talking to someone else instead?
I experienced something entirely different at WEF. Nearly every person I met—whether CEO, elected official, or royalty—treated me with warmth and respect and showed genuine interest in getting to know me. I fielded thoughtful questions about the content I wrote, the process of getting a book published, living overseas, and the impact of my husband’s business on the developing world. Individuals with extraordinary influence invited me to visit them or promised to check out my writing.
You are a person of value, their words and actions told me. You deserve my respect. There is something I can learn from you.
Their reception gave me the courage to engage with people I didn’t know—quite the feat for an introvert. But it wasn’t painful or even uncomfortable. It felt easy to ask about who they were, in large part because everyone else wanted to know who I was.
Of course, the World Economic Forum goes to extraordinary lengths to create such an environment. Attendees typically pay more than $70,000 a year to be a member of WEF and participate in the gathering. Corporations shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend additional events. And if someone has that much money and power, it’s fair to assume that he or she has something valuable to offer everyone—at least by the world’s standards.
Yet something else was happening at this year's WEF, on a soul level, far beyond the extensive professional networking. We all seemed to operate with the assurance that we did not need to posture but could simply be ourselves. I had authentic conversations with others about their family life, their priorities, their expectations and fears—all after a few minutes of meeting. I heard expressions of regret and humility, of anxiety and hope.
Even the wealthy and powerful want to feel accepted and seen as their true selves—as who they are apart from what they do or what social strata they occupy. All of us, in fact, need this kind of acceptance. The grace of God expressed in Christ gives us the kind of acceptance we ultimately desire, based not on what we do but on what he has done for us (Eph. 2; 2 Tim. 1). When we receive this grace in Christ, we are then freed to extend it to others.
According to the world's rules, a person needs to be accomplished, wealthy, or powerful to bolster his or her value. They need to be among the 1 percent of the 1 percent. But the truth of the gospel is that we have value because we bear the image of God and have been redeemed through the sacrifice of his Son. Our identity is then centered on being people who have received mercy, not on people who have earned it (1 Peter 2:10).
How different our daily lives and interactions would be if we could truly see each other in that light, no matter our background, abilities, or access to resources. You are a person of value. You deserve my respect. There is something I can learn from you.
That, I found during my time in Davos, was where the true treasure lay. In seeing one another, learning from one another, and encouraging one another to be the best versions of ourselves. As it turns out, even a Queen needs this kind of encouragement from time to time.